Peter Sagan’s Flandrian Weekend

He’s only 27 and already he’s a legend. 

People in his native Slovakia have known that since he won the Slovak Cup as a 17 year old. On his sister’s bike. That she bought at the supermarket.

Those at Liquigas have known he was destined for greatness since their tests found him to be the strongest 19 year old they’d come across. (Although those at Quick-Step who declined to offer him a contract earlier that year must be used to seeing mutant strength). They knew it too when he destroyed bikes at a training camp with Cannondale, their mountain bike team. 

For most of us, the legend didn’t start until his first Tour de France in 2012. Most riders just want to finish their first Tour.

That wasn’t enough for Sagan.

He won Stage 1 by besting Fabian Cancellera in a breakaway. Spartacus in his prime. Beaten by a 22 year old in his first Tour. Over the last 200 metres of the stage, Sagan averaged more than 900 watts.

He finished with three stage wins, the Green Jersey, a most combative rider award and a Porsche from a side bet with the team sponsor. All while impersonating The Incredible Hulk.

Like all of us, he’s matured as he’s got older. These days he looks more like Jesus than The Hulk. Or, perhaps The Dude is more like it. 

But that’s all part of his charm. It’s why we love to watch him race.

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Greg van Avermaet and Sep Vanmarcke were both happy to let Sagan do the lion’s share as the three of them navigated the streets of Ghent on the way to the finish. He made some half-hearted efforts to get them to come through, but then seemed content to take longer and longer turns in the front. 

When you’re Sagan, the normal rules don’t apply.

He looked so at ease, so strong compared to the other two, it seemed as though he’d be able to ride away at will. 

As they approached a bend with 300 metres to go, Vanmarcke made his bid for the line round the outside. Sagan easily matched him. But in aiming for the wheel, he drifted out wide round the bend too. Van Avermaet couldn’t believe his luck as he powered up the clear route inside. 

Sagan responded again, coming round Vanmarcke and making it on to Van Avermaet’s wheel. But he didn’t have enough road left to make it by, instead choosing to sit up as Van Avermaet punched the air. 

He’d taken a scenic route in the final 500 metres, pottering round like a pensioner on a day trip in the countryside while Van Avermaet had taken the motorway. Yet he’d still only just lost. 

For most people, second place in the season’s first classic would be top of their palmares. It’s only a disappointment when you’re great. 

As the microphone was shoved into his face, he tried to make sense of what had happened. 

The sprint, the moment you went wide in that curve, was that when you lost today?

Sagan looked everywhere except at the interviewer, like a teenager being asked if he’d been drinking.

No.”

The interviewer paused. The silence grew. Empires rose and fell. Ice ages came and went.

The interviewer tried again. 

Because you went really wide there. You had some problems?”

I don’t know.” He flapped his arms, exasperated. 

Not every day can I win, right?

I didn’t have the legs to beat Greg.” More shrugging and flapping.

He seemed not to be able to believe he hadn’t had the strength to come round Van Avermaet. It was like Superman being interviewed after his first encounter with kryptonite.

More post-race media. He walked into the TV studio with a still-baffled look on his face and all the sartorial charm of Happy Gilmore’s hobo caddy. The presenters were already in conversation with Vanmarcke. Sagan sat down behind the desk and then lowered the chair as far as it would go. His rainbow stripes disappeared from view. His beard was resting on the desk. The presenters tried to carry on the questions.

Sagan took over the interview. “Why didn’t you attack?” He asked Vanmarcke. “You were supposed to attack.

A mutant made mortal, just trying to understand.

Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne

There were five riders in the break away but Sagan was one of them again. As they reached the final 1500 metres, the pace slowed as they jockied for position. They were all blowing hard. Except for Sagan, who seemed to be gently spinning. But then compared to the others, he looked like a rugby back row forward riding a clown bike. It barely seemed fair.

No one wanted to let him get the jump, weaving left and then right to stay behind him. With less than a kilometre to go, Matteo Trentin broke for the finish. It was too early. A desperate move from a man who knows he isn’t the best rider in the break. He was easily caught by Luke Rowe, Sagan on his wheel. 

At 500 metres to go there was a bend. Today, Sagan took a tight line.

He was at the back of the group now, the others in his sights.

With 250 metres to go, he put the power down and immediately jumped out to a lead. The others responded but it wasn’t a fair fight. 

He’s a mutant. They had no chance. 

By 150 metres to go, the race was won. He cruised to the line looking backwards at the carnage he had left behind him. Today it was his turn to punch the air as he crossed the line. 

The Hulk was back. 

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